SEARCY — When it’s the Pine Bluff Zebras, it’s never easy for the Searcy Lions.
In fact, the Lions have never beaten Pine Bluff, including four meetings in the last two seasons.
That changed Friday night at Lions Stadium, thanks to Tony Young’s performance. The senior running back rushed for 110 yards on 21 carries and caught five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Lions to a 30-24 win.
The biggest of Young’s TD catches came with 1:46 to go in the third quarter. On Searcy’s only possession of the third quarter, after watching Pine Bluff eat the majority of the third quarter clock on two drives, Searcy got to the Pine Bluff’s 20.
On fourth down, senior quarterback Peyton Wright lofted a pass to the left side that Young ran under in the end zone for the game-tying score.
From there, Searcy head coach Mark Kelley calmed his group.
“We just needed to settle down,” Kelley said. “They ended up going to the Wildcat…we had to adjust to it. We just had to get off the field a little bit and catch our breath because they were on there the whole third quarter.”
The score was tied at 24-24 for most of the fourth quarter. With 2:02 to play, Wright found Tim Williams for the 13-yard touchdown. Wright threw for 185 yards hitting 17 of his 36 passes, including three touchdowns and two picks, both by Berkarion Black, the first of which he returned for a touchdown in the first quarter.
The Zebras had one final shot to win after Wright’s extra point bounced off the left upright and out, but a group led by Demacio Whittier wouldn’t allow Pine Bluff to even achieve a first down in the final 1:58.
Whittier got his third sack on second down, which resulted in a 10-yard loss for Pine Bluff, and they simply couldn’t recover.
Whittier finished the game with three and a half sacks, none bigger than the final one.
“Man, I couldn’t be more proud of a bunch of young kids than I’ve ever been in my coaching career,” Pine Bluff head coach Bobby Bolding said. “We’ve got 14 new people starting that were playing JV early in the year due to injuries. We had to make two changes tonight due to injuries. My kids battled. I couldn’t be more proud. We are fooling around and getting better.”
It was in Pine Bluff’s first drive that Searcy began asserting themselves. After the Zebras incurred a penalty on their first play, Demacio Whittier ended their opening drive before it gained steam, sacking Pine Bluff quarterback Shauwn Howell.
That’s when Young went to work.
He took a handoff on Searcy’s next play from scrimmage and ran 12 yards. Young also got a 10-yard catch on an out route for another first down at Pine Bluff’s 39.
On third down, Young sliced his way through the secondary for 15 yards to the 16. On the next play, Young laid out a blitzing Pine Bluff linebacker.
On 4th-and-8 from the Pine Bluff 14, Young’s number was called again when Wright floated a pass toward the right corner of the end zone that Young ran under to put Searcy up 7-0 with 5:44 to play in the first quarter.
Pine Bluff got their first TD at the 2:58 mark on Black’s pick-6. The two-point conversion put the Z’s up 8-7.
Young came through again on the ensuing drive, converting a 3rd-and-21 at the Pine Bluff 31.
On the next series, Searcy (6-1, 3-1) faced fourth down with 17 yards to go. After drawing the Zebras offside, Wright found Williams on the boundary at the 10.
On the first play of the second quarter, Wright put the Lions back on top with his leg, hitting a 25-yard field goal. Just two seconds into the second quarter, Searcy had a 10-8 lead.
The Lions got an interception of their own at the 9:44 mark when Josiah Mora stepped in and ran down the sideline to the end zone. But a block in the back penalty pushed Searcy back to Pine Bluff’s 30.
Young’s 19-yard run to the three set up Peyton Wright’s 3-yard run to cap off the drive, extending Searcy’s cushion to 17-8, which is where things stood at halftime.
Pine Bluff’s answer fizzled three minutes later when Howell overthrew Black out of bounds on 3rd-and-12 from the Searcy 46, forcing Pine Bluff (2-4-1, 2-2) to punt.
The Zebras got another chance with just under two and a half minutes to go in the first half, taking over at their own 13 after forcing Searcy to punt at midfield. They got as far as Searcy’s 35 before time ran out in the second quarter. The half ended on a sack at Searcy’s 46.
The Zebras got the second half kick and immediately turned to Braylon Moody, who started at quarterback in the Wildcat formation and carried twice in a row, gaining 32 yards, including 27 yards on Pine Bluff’s first play.
Moody rushed for 70 yards on a drive that ended with a touchdown from two yards out with 5:05 to play in the third quarter.
After the two-point conversion, the Lions clung to a 17-16 lead before they had a possession in the third quarter. That possession didn’t come until the quarter was nearly over.
Pine Bluff recovered a fumble on the kickoff at Searcy’s 25-yard line. At the 3:31 mark, Pine Bluff took their first lead since the first quarter on Moody’s second TD, this time from seven yards out.
The two-point conversion put the Zebras up 24-17.
The Lions got their first offensive possession with 3:26 to go in the third at their own 38.
Naturally, the Lions gave the ball to Young on two straight carries to Pine Bluff’s 28. On 4th-and-2, Wright lofted a pass to the left side to a wide-open Young for the 20-yard TD. Wright’s extra point tied the game at 24-24 with 1:46 to go in the third.
Searcy travels to Jonesboro next week while the Zebras will host Marion.